UDC - Let's Get it Right

As you likely know, the UDC will be getting a serious look in the coming weeks.  The UDC was always intended to be a living document and there are a number of things that should be altered and improved.  I had a number of serious concerns with the initial proposal that the City Council brought forth in January.  I addressed those in this post.  

We are now getting into a review period that is kicking off this Thursday, 2/18, with a work session at City Hall.  I am posting my thoughts and suggestions on the items that I feel are the highest priority.  Those are below.

Suburban Residential Small Lot Housing Types

Initial Proposal - Eliminate everything below 12k square foot in Suburban Residential

My Suggestion - Create New Zoning Class that Allows this but in Context

The initial suggestions would impact all lots smaller than 12,000 sq ft in Suburban Residential areas which is roughly 80% of the land mass of the city of Roswell.  Basically, the new council is trying to eliminate all smaller lot residential in our suburban residential areas.  I think this wholesale elimination of 9,000 square foot lots, 6,000 square foot lots, 4,000 square foot lots, cottage court developments and town homes is the wrong approach.  

The objective should be to ensure appropriate transitions between the border of one area to the next.  

I suggest we create a new zoning category called Mixed Village which allows any of the aforementioned types but they must be mixed into a development.  The rules would be as follows:

  • Parcel Size - Mixed Village is allowed on any assemblage of 10 acres or more in a Suburban Residential area.
  • Building Variety - Mixed Village must contain at least 3 building/lot combinations (ex. 9,000 sq ft, 4,000 sq ft & cottage court)
  • Public Park - Mixed Village must contain at least 10% publicly accessible park space (similar to Sloan Street Park in the Mill Village; 10 acres would mean 1 acre must be public park)
  • Context - Mixed Village developments must pay attention to neighboring residential and must have 9,000 square foot lots on the borders of at least 75% of the border in areas that abut larger lot sizes.  If more than 50% of the abutting lots are half acre or more, then 12,000 square foot lots will be the minimum for the 75% border requirement. 

This Mixed Village will keep what is a desirable housing type available to developers but it will protect existing property owners by providing a buffer that forces a reasonable transition between larger lots and smaller lots.  It will also create neighborhoods with pocket parks that will be amenities to the neighboring areas.  Finally, it will eliminate the possibility that we have new developments that are monocultures of housing types.

I would also suggest that Mixed Village be the preferred zoning type for any purely residential development > 10 acres anywhere in the city to ensure that we don’t continue to build housing monocultures.


Initial Proposal - Create 40 foot minimum setbacks for virtually all residential.  Increase side and rear setbacks significantly as well.

My Suggestion - Create variable setback in Downtown and make only modest changes to side and rear setbacks in Downtown.

My primary concern with the setback suggestions proposed (40 foot for all residential) is in the downtown.  Walkable downtowns have varying setbacks and tend to be smaller than suburban residential.  I propose a form of a variable setback in our downtown that would look something like below:

  • Mid-Block Buildings - Setbacks for mid-block buildings can be no more that 5' more or less than the average of the four adjacent properties (2 left and 2 right)
  • Corner or End Buildings - If the building will sit at a corner or end of a street, setback can be as low as 50% of the average setback of the two abutting properties.  If those properties both have setbacks of 10' or less, the setback can be 0.’  This is appropriate for a corner lot in a walkable downtown.
  • Existing Setbacks - All buildings are entitled to the existing setback on the property if it is less than the above calculation.

Side and rear setbacks should remain consistent with the UDC.  Any changes to them should not be drastic in nature.

This would keep a developer from significantly altering a streetscape while providing flexibility to build a unique building that varies somewhat from those adjacent to it.  

Lot Coverage

Initial Proposal - Move lot coverage in downtown from 60-75% to roughly 40% across the board.

My Suggestion - Talk to developers and see what is realistic given land values.  We cannot apply 40% to every building type or lot.  Corner lots that are going to be townhomes cannot be done with 40% lot coverage.

One reason why we did not see significant redevelopment in our downtown for years.. even prior to the real estate recession had to do with lot coverage requirements.  I don’t think that the initial proposal is realistic and it definitely is in opposition to creating a truly walkable downtown.  Please get a task force with several developers who have done quality work in our downtown and discuss this matter with them.

Carriage Houses

Initial Proposal - Eliminate Carriage Houses as an approved option for lot sizes below 30,000 square feet

My Suggestion - Completely drop this proposal or allow down to 6,000 square foot loots.

The carriage house is a very popular building type these days and we should not be limiting these to 2/3 acre lots and larger.  There are dozens of examples of very nice carriage houses on relatively small lots within our downtown and in some of our nicer residential subdivisions.  

This should be an allowed building type on lot sizes down to 6,000 square feet which already exist in the historic district.  There are numerous excellent examples of high quality single family residences with carriage houses on 9, 12, 18 thousand square foot lots in and around the historic district.  Additionally, Vickery Village has hundreds of examples of this type of building on lots as small as 4,000 square feet and even in Cumming the neighborhood is able to command some of the highest prices per square foot in the metro area.  

There are other changes that I think are warranted but these are the ones I feel are critical.  

At the end of the day, the changes need to be supported by the community but also realistic to developers.  If we want redevelopment, we can’t have our region’s best and most influential developers and real estate pros laughing at us because we have created an unrealistic code.